Love stories are aplenty in the land of the Buddha, Mount Everest and arranged marriages. The task of finding a mate – the most primal of needs and what comes to man so naturally – is, for a lot of Nepalese lovers, left to their parents. Half the love stories here end because the boy and the girl are born on the wrong sides of an invisible line drawn by a society that discriminates against inter-caste marriages. A fourth of the stories are muffled to silence by predominantly unexpressive upbringings, and only a few of the remaining stories are realized into… well marriage or equivalent-yet-undefined relationships.
The discriminating line is clearly visible for most people, mostly out of respect for tradition and/or fear of disapproval from the community for the entire family. For some lovers on the other hand, either blinded or strengthened by love, the line is a very weak hurdle. Both categories of stories are understandable and contain frustrating if not rational reasoning. Both are out of and for love. It obviously feels good to fight for someone you love, but equal if not more is the courage to live a life that also makes someone else happy besides you. In such cases, there is no right and wrong, at least not for a bystander to decide. What there is, however, is great drama and great stories to hear; that is if you keep your eyes, ears and heart open to life around you. You don’t even have to look for it: romance and love are everywhere in Nepal.
On local buses – stolen moments holding hands; at the zoo – an hour in a small wooden boat around a small lake serenaded by the perhaps oddly soothing sounds of wild animals and children; around temples – in the presence of god; in dark, foggy alleys – whispered confirmation and hushed laughter, through a window that opens out towards another window with love literally hanging in the air between them; at restaurants – in corner seats over a plate of steamed momos; in classrooms – penciled hearts on lined paper professing undying love; even online – as love bytes traveling back and forth through cyberspace. And as varied are those that dare to love. But the real range arrives with the gasp-inspiring circumstances under which people fall in love. You name it and Nepal can do one better.
Everywhere, young love is hush-hush and a little anxious. Of the many threads that have been woven to make this great society, the one that represents vibrant, unabashed, unbridled, carefree, head-over-heels romance seems to be subdued on purpose. Romance-in-Nepal is regulated. And that is exactly where the fun comes into the picture. Nothing else can inspire creativity such as is borne of a desperate heart.
That is not to say that there is no romance in Nepali marriages and Nepali lives. For some married couples, romance oozes out of their every conversation, every look and every touch. I know of couples who never met before the day they were married and yet by some wonderful stroke of luck, found their soul mates through an ‘arranged’ marriage. They remain living proof for me that some marriages are truly made in heaven. I also know of couples who are still in their courtship period after years of marriage. For many Nepali couples, wooing a woman, or a man for that matter, seems to happen after they get marriage out of the way. The tiptoeing around each other, stolen glances, getting to know each other’s idiosyncrasies and the acceptance that they are yours, however they are. True love can seem so very unoriginal and clichéd. But I suppose therein lays its magic – in the play with the mundane that feeds undying love.
A lot of people believe it’s the people and the place that inspires these love stories in Nepal. Lush green hills that give way to snowcapped mountains, whispering streams that turn into roaring rivers, a walking trail that leads and often surprises you by reaching a fabulous nowhere. The brilliantly colorful spread of the Tarai region, the rich diversity of the hills and the splendid allure of the mountains; all mixed with a heady dose of culture, mythology, folklore and a belief system that many call ‘third world’. Nepal is all this and so much more, and romance here just seems to feed on it all. But that’s about it. Romance might feed on scenic hills and whispering streams but its conceived somewhere else.
For one, regulated romance – the mere mention of it breeds a delightful want to fall in love. There’s something about violating a rule or at least twisting it to suit you that feels more gratifying than complying with everything that’s been said and done for almost always. A startling number of Nepali lovers elope in every sense of the word, as in they strap their world around their backs and flee the site altogether, resurfacing after a few months or years to ask for forgiveness from their parents! For others, romance is more old school than the term ‘old school’ itself. There’s purity in such love, a wholesomeness and sacredness in believing in the good in someone else even though there might not be any plausible evidence to prove it. Love and lovers might suffer in such romances, but there is proof that miracles happen and these proofs are scattered all over this Himalayan kingdom.
Romance-in-Nepal is not for everyone. It’s a tough kind which has a tendency to hit a wall again and again. There is much dreaming with the acceptance of a prefixed maybe. And the breaking of too many hearts, too many times. There is no road to anywhere and all paths are trodden upon for the first time. There are no surprises but rather, everything is discovered. This perhaps is its originality. But those who venture out on this often-times lonely and long journey seldom complain. There might not be conclusions, or closure, but there are rewards. And this – only those who have walked this path will ever really know.
Utsav Shakya is a freelance writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel. 98413.27.187.
The image of the potbellied, elephant headed deity seen in every nook and corner of the Kathmandu Valley as well...